Writers' Clearing House

The Philadelphia City Paper
December 11-18, 1997

One University of Pennsylvania alum's donation of more than a million dollars has helped a students' informal literary hub stay, well, just the way it was.

On Dec. 11, the Writers House will celebrate its reopening as the Kelly Writers House, named in honor of Paul Kelly, the 57-year-old banker who shelled out $1.1 million to bring the burgeoning collective up-to-date.

The 1851 Tudor-style cottage needed the basics, such as new plumbing, heating, wiring and air conditioning. But it also got the works: the latest computers, a direct ethernet connection and a security system to protect it all.

But from the outside, says House director Al Filreis, the space looks just as it did when it was the home of the university chaplain -- leaded windows and all.

"We wanted to keep the sense and spirit as a home," explains Filreis. "Kelly enabled us to do that."

The collective, formed a few years ago by Filreis and a group of students and staff, is an informal space for all scribes: students, technical writers, professional writers, poets, and especially, says Filreis, "closeted" writers.

"You know, nurses, university staff, and others who wouldn't normally consider themselves writers."

They were aiming to fill a void many community spaces in institutional settings can't.

"People are there because they want to be, not because they have to be," says Kelly. "Plus the place has certain charm; it has managed to blend a salon-like atmosphere with a sort of Greenwich Village ambiance. At any given time there are technical advisors, writing advisors and professional writers wandering around."

Though Thursday marks their grand reopening, they have been busy all semester. Their list of visitors already includes everyone from Donald Lamm, chairman of W.W. Norton publishing company, to David Breskin, poet and former writer for Rolling Stone, Esquire and GQ, to Andy Wolk, a screenwriter and former artistic director of the Sundance Institute.

Every month WXPN broadcasts a spoken word program, Live at the Writers House, and starting this Saturday, Dec. 13, the station will broadcast a new local music program, Dystopia, from the space.

Their open mike series called "Speakeasy: Poetry, Prose and Anything Goes," is organized by two undergraduate students. Recently, they started a second called "Full Circle," organized by Cecily Kellogg and Charlie O'Hay.

To find out about upcoming events, check the Kelly Writers House website, or call 746-POEM.